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Author's Forum Presents: Merce Cunningham's Diaries: A Conversation with Laura Kuhn and Peter Sparling

Wednesday, April 8, 2015
12:00 AM
Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library, 913 S. University, Library Gallery, #100

Institute for the Humanities Visiting Fellow Laura Kuhn and U-M's Peter Sparling discuss Kuhn's recent work on the diaries of Merce Cunningham.

In 2009, upon the death of the beloved American choreographer, Merce Cunningham, Laura Kuhn, long-time executive director of the John Cage Trust and friend to the Cage/Cunningham household, was bequeathed Cunningham’s unique collection of 329 diaries.  Dating continuously from 1972 to 2009, each of Cunningham’s diaries consists of approximately 80-100 leaves, notated in ink.  In the late 1990s, Cunningham began a second set of diaries with more abbreviated text and inclusive of drawings, vividly executed in colored pencil and predominantly depicting whimsically portrayed animals and plants.

During Kuhn’s residency at the Institute for the Humanities, she will be transcribing and scanning the contents for a glimpse into Cunningham’s life and work.  Cunningham’s diaries are found to be emotionally candid, dispelling the myth of the celebrated artist as ever winsome, yet wise, and winningly independent.  Unlike Nijinsky’s Diary, to which these may be loosely compared, Cunningham’s diaries cover far more of an adult life, in and out of work.  Cunningham is revealed to be at heart a man whose need to be in and not just of the world – functional, contributory, and deeply loved and admired – drove each step taken in what he himself might well have called his life-long artistic ordeal.

Laura Kuhn is the founding executive director of the John Cage Trust, now situated at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, where in 2007 she became the first John Cage Professor of Performance Arts.  She is presently at work on The Selected Letters of John Cage for publication by Wesleyan University Press (2015).

Peter Sparling is the Rudolf Arnheim Distinguished University Professor of Dance and Arthur. F. Thurnau Professor of Dance at University of Michigan. A graduate of Interlochen Arts Academy and The Juilliard School, Sparling was a member of the companies of José Limón (1971-73) Martha Graham (1973-87). He has had extensive experience as artistic director, (Peter Sparling Dance Company), choreographer, performer, teacher (U-M Distinguished Faculty Award and 1998 Governor’s Michigan Artist Award), video artist (NY Dance on Camera and international festivals), writer (Ballet Review, Choreographic Practices, Michigan Quarterly Review), collaborator, administrator (former chair, U-M Dance Department) and arts consultant. He has presented papers at Society of Dance History Scholars, European Association of Dance Historians and Southeast College Art Conference. He is presently a resident artist at the UM Life Sciences Institute, where he has collaborated with cell biologist Dan Klionsky, and the North Campus Research Complex, where he is creating multi-layered video works for the PUPP, or the Pop-Up Projection Pavilion.

The Author's Forum is a collaboration between the U-M Institute for the Humanities, University Library, & Ann Arbor Book Festival.

Laura Kuhn, Bard College and Peter Sparling, U-M